Building bridges of innovation between Europe and Africa

The recent rifts in some EU-Africa government relations seem more than just an outbreak. Instead, they may point to deeper gaps caused by long-term policy failures and the belief in Africa that the EU’s international competitors can offer better prospects.

Diplomatic conflicts last week in Mali, which resulted in the expulsion of the French ambassador to Bamako,[1] this is an illustrative case. The extreme diplomatic move came after an unusually aggressive comment from Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister, that Mali’s current leadership; «Illegitimate“And”out of control“. It was reminiscent of the American phenomenon of “police suicide.”[2] where the criminal asks his opponents to take him down. The fact that the price was to be paid by the local ambassador, and not by Le Drian himself, reflects a well-known English epithet; “Deputy executives need to roll.”

Le Drian’s comments reflect France’s frustration over its expulsion by the transitional authorities in Bamako following the overthrow of President Kate in 2020. Unlike other former colonial powers, France takes a practical approach to its former colonies.[3] France, led by President Macron, has now spent significant funds in the pre-election regime in Mali and Kate as a means of consolidating its 21street century of influence in Africa.

By 2020, however, it became clear that France’s long-term investment, especially in troops and equipment, had failed. France had reached the end of the road, even if it did not seem to recognize it. It seemed that Mali’s endless battle with the rebels and bandits was ongoing, the recent parliamentary elections were a mess, the opposition leader was abducted, and President Kate seemed increasingly incompetent to many of his people. The Malians are tired of constant uncertainty.

The 2020 coup has replaced a sick and obviously ineffective president who will soon die.[4] The undemocratic nature of the new interim regime naturally angered African and international officials, and since then coup leader Colonel Goita has been appointed interim president. The Malians have regained hope and some concrete signs that he intends and can provide better security.[5]

The French armed forces are well equipped and competent. But in Mali, they were constrained by strict rules of engagement and fears of deadly disasters, making it difficult to justify deploying to Africa during French election times. Deploying sophisticated military equipment capable of inflicting huge damage is always at risk, and sometimes it manifests as a human error. The consequences could be politically damaging, and French forces have certainly suffered.[6] This probably explains, at least in part, why President Goita has now turned to others for help instead.

Military contractors work where governments prefer not to set foot, often training and supporting poorly trained local forces. In an environment that is usually very unstructured, failures and questions about how things are going can arise.[7] However, contractors are often, in fact, licensed to be tougher than formal nation-state forces.[8]

Wagner, a military contract company reportedly now replacing French troops in Mali, does not appear to be playing by the same rules as French troops. They are likely to use much less air force and take a tougher line on earth with the people who are making the lives of Malians hell. If they have setbacks along the way, it is unlikely to be worse than killing a dozen and a half innocent people at a wedding, as French troops did last year.[9] However, the political view of the risk-reward ratio for this new strategy will be held by President Goita, not President Macron.

Losing a face this way is bad enough for France. Worse, however, is the fact that events elsewhere, such as Guinea, where President Alfa Conde, sponsored by France, was expelled in a coup in 2021,[10] seems to be seriously reducing France’s influence on its former African colonies. Perhaps that is why France is now playing with men, Goita and Wagner, and not with the ball – the insane uncertainty that the Malians want to kill in the rebel’s net.

Wagner is certainly controversial in the West, and serious questions have been raised about the company’s methods, but working in the Central African Republic (CAR) with Rwandan troops, the company has so far defeated rebels and taken control of the countryside.[11] President Fostyn-Arshange Tuadera, a mathematician and former vice-chancellor of Bangui University, says he has been able to use improved security to start developing services for his citizens. He believes the improvement of the CAR is the help of Russia, Rwanda and,[12] obliquely, Wagner.

Mali, of course, wants to participate in this action. Perhaps Wagner can deliver to where French forces have failed, as in the CAR? Nothing is guaranteed, of course, and there is considerable risk. But the Malian leadership would find it ridiculous not to try this new trick.

However, in addition to the loss of business security in Africa, Western nations such as France have much bigger problems in Africa; not least the fact that international initiatives such as the COP have often turned into an exercise for well-being.[13] There, Western states and NGOs are demanding that Africans restrain their own economic development by not exploiting mineral resources while stimulating economic recovery at home by subsidizing their own fossil fuel production.[14] This apparent hypocrisy is now angering even some serious Western campaign groups and publications.[15]

The West’s ambiguous attitude towards African mining is in a longer context, with African states being encouraged throughout the year by international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to develop their economies in the context of rule-based systems. and democratic governance in the image of the West. But this “Washington Consensus,” which has set a broad framework, is fatally flawed.[16]

In the late 1980s, US President Reagan and British Prime Minister Thatcher emphasized markets based on rules governed by strong institutions; so far so good. But in order to charge this, it took massive infrastructure development for Africa to have its own industrial and commercial revolution.[17]

Western investment for this simply did not happen, leaving terrible conditions for real economic development. They include too little infrastructure, and this in turn has led to exorbitant transportation and logistics costs, little cross-border planning and more.

Accusations of mismanagement, as many in the West often do, cannot explain Africa’s failure to modernize.[18] The support of institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is in principle expert and focused, but in the broader context Western governments use Africa not as a place to invest but as a recipient of charity. It is also a means of rhetorically resolving their internal public concerns about the environment while avoiding the economic blow at home.

Meanwhile, over the same period China has taken a completely different path to the present through government planning combined with private investment. And investments that respect the sovereign choice of other states, moreover. Now, of course, it’s a big investor in Africa as the West recedes. But from now on they may not have everything in their own way. Nature does not tolerate vacuum, including competition.

Many of today’s leading Africans remember the support they received earlier in their careers from the then Soviet Union and other Eastern European states. Rosalie Matonda,[19] for example, studied at the National Academy of Sciences of Bulgaria. She has continued to lead the reforestation program in the densely forested Republic of the Congo and is now the Minister of Forestry there. There are many more like her. The Russia-Africa Summit in 2019 began to use this historic link and paved the way for a number of commercial agreements. At the next summit in November 2022, consolidation is likely to be on the agenda.[20]

African states may be entering a phase where new international partners can help them make a serious fist to do two things they have not been able to achieve to date. First, the improvement in internal security in a way not seen since Tony Blair’s 2000 intervention in Sierra Leone[21] and Rwanda’s intervention in itself a few years ago. Second, the use of natural resources for the benefit of the people of each nation state. Africa certainly has both human and mineral resources. So Africans are closely watching outstanding people like CAR and Mali to see if they can be harbingers of something good for the entire continent.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-60202343

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/crime-law/2019/10/31/police-chiefs-propose-ways-reduce-suicide-by-cop/

[3]

[4] https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20220116-former-president-of-mali-ibrahim-boubacar-keita-dies-at-76

[5] https://www.theafricareport.com/172328/mali-who-really-is-assimi-goita-the-man-who-said-no-to-france/

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/world/africa/mali-wedding-french-airstrike.html

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/29/blackwater-iraq-security-contractor

[8] https://www.dw.com/en/russian-mercenaries-accused-of-rights-violations-in-central-african-republic/a-57201150

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/world/africa/mali-wedding-french-airstrike.html

[10] https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2021/09/09/alpha-conde-the-president-of-guinea-is-ousted-in-a-coup

[11] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/rwanda-commits-to-further-helping-central-african-republic-restore-peace/2326189

[12] https://www.theafricareport.com/130086/car-i-have-nothing-to-hide-about-the-russians-says-president-faustin-archange-touadera/

[13] https://ukcop26.org

[14] https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2022/01/12/natural-resources-bingo/

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/jan/28/west-accused-of-climate-hypocrisy-as-emissions-dwarf-those-of-poor-countries

[16] https://www.crossfirekm.org/articles/knockin-on-africas-door-how-the-west-failed-africa-and-chinas-quest-to-become-africas-biggest-trading-partner

[17] https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/august-2016/why-has-africa-failed-industrialize

[18]https://www.earth.columbia.edu/sitefiles/file/about/director/documents/AfricaintheWorldEconomy2005withMcCordandWoo-UnderstandingAfricanPoverty.pdf

[19]

[20] https://au.int/en/pressreleases/20191028/statement-2019-russia-africa-summit-and-economic-forum-0

[21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_military_intervention_in_the_Sierra_Leone_Civil_War

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